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How to Tell if You're Struggling

stress | acute vs chronic stress | coping with changes | therapy | strategies | sign and symptoms

Sometimes it can be difficult to know when you're struggling especially if the issues you've been dealing with is ongoing but isn't an obvious stressor in your life. There are many different types of stress people deal with and the duration and intensity of the stress can impact your mental health.

There are different types of stress and it is important to manage and identify the stress correctly. Knowing what kind of stress you're dealing with can help you.

Not all stress is bad and sometimes it can even be beneficial for the person experiencing the stress when it is managed correctly.

Acute stress

Acute stress is stress that lasts only for a short period of time. This includes situations such as starting a new job, secondments, starting a new role, increased responsibilities, or being faced with change, uncertainty or a pressing deadline at work.

The body typically bounces back well from acute stress if the stress experienced is managed properly. Acute stress in the form of mild challenge can even be beneficial as it provides the brain and body for a chance to practise building resilience.

However, if the stress experienced is severe or presents a life-threatening situation it can lead to significant mental health problems in the future.

Chronic stress

Chronic stress is stress that continues for a long period of time. It can occur in circumstances such as ongoing financial problems, relationship difficulties, chronic health problems, caring for someone with complex needs, being away from partner from extended period of time or living in an unsafe environment such as a war zone or where there is violence in the home.

Signs and Symptoms

Everyone reacts differently to stress, some may withdraw from their loved ones, others turn to substances or other addictive behaviours (gambling, shopping,drinking) or experience change in activity levels. You might not only notice changes in behaviour, but you may notice changes in your emotional, psychological or physical state.


  • Change in activity levels

  • Difficulty communicating

  • Irritability, outbursts of anger, frequent arguments

  • Inability to rest, relax, or let down

  • Change in eating habits

  • Change in sleep patterns

  • Change in job performance

  • Periods of crying

  • Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, drugs, sugar or caffeine

  • Hyper-vigilance about safety or the surrounding environment

  • Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories

  • Reduced libido


  • Denial

  • Anxiety

  • Worry about safety of self or others

  • Irritability or anger

  • Restlessness

  • Sadness, moodiness, grief or depression

  • Vivid or distressing dreams

  • Guilt or "survivor guilt"

  • Feeling overwhelmed, helpless or hopeless

  • Feeling isolated, lost, lonely or abandoned

  • Apathy

  • Feeling misunderstood or unappreciated


  • Increased heart rate and respirations

  • Increased blood pressure

  • Upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea

  • Increased or decreased appetite which may be accompanied by weight loss or gain

  • Sweating or chills

  • Tremors or muscle twitching

  • Feeling uncoordinated

  • Headaches

  • Sore or aching muscles

  • Light sensitive vision

  • Lower back pain

  • Feeling a "lump in the throat"

  • Easily startled

  • Fatigue that does not improve with sleep

  • Menstrual cycle changes

  • Change in sexual desire or response

  • Decreased resistance to colds, flu, infections

  • Flare up of allergies, asthma, or arthritis

  • Hair loss


  • Memory problems/forgetfulness

  • Disorientation

  • Confusion

  • Slowness in thinking, analysing, or comprehending

  • Difficulty calculating, setting priorities or making decisions

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Limited attention span

  • Loss of objectivity

  • Inability to stop thinking about the disaster or an incident

What can you do about it?

1. Focus on what is within your control

It is important to clearly define what is, and what isn’t within your direct control. For instance, you may not be able to change your situation but you can choose your response to it. Take a step back and breathe, talk to someone, have a break, rest, or go for a walk. Cool down for a moment before delving deep into the problem.

2. Basic self care

Examine the way you are living your life in this moment. Are you eating well? sleeping enough? getting enough exercise? Make sure you're taking time to rest. Taking frequent breaks and also allowing yourself to do "nothing" sometimes can be helpful.

3. Listen to what you need

Ask yourself "in this moment, what are my top three priorities? what are my top three needs". Stop, and ask yourself what is important to you, and try to redirect your focus towards those things instead of circling around in an endless cycle.

4. Get support

Ask for help from others. It's okay to say "I'm struggling here, i need help". Speak to a trusted friend or health professional to seek ideas about how you can find better ways to cope with stress.

Remind yourself that things will improve over time once you develop better coping strategies around this challenging situation. Make sure to extend the compassion you have for others towards yourself and look after your own wellbeing.

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